TransAlta, the last operating coal-fired plant in the Pacific Northwest, is shutting down, but not until 2025 under a deal brokered by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire with TransAlta, state regulators and environmental groups.
It’s a phased closure of the controversial 1,600-megawatt plant in Centralia, WA that accommodates corporate needs, a long environmental battle and economic and labor concerns in the region. The plant’s first boiler will go offline in 2020 and the second in 2025.
The surprise development continues Washington’s transition away from dirty coal to clean energy, according to a statement from the Sierra Club. With mounting pressure from the public (including long-running campaigns by environmental groups, clean energy advocates, health professionals, students and the faith community) in the state to move away from dirty coal, Governor Gregoire convened a group of stakeholders to discuss ways to transition the state off of coal. The resulting agreement was approved by the State Senate last weekend. Other conservation and clean energy groups involved in the negotiation included Climate Solutions, the Northwest Energy Coalition and Washington Environmental Council.
“This agreement reflects a reasonable and thoughtful approach to a complex situation,” said Doug Howell, Washington Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “Retiring this plant will protect the families and national parks that have for four decades been choking on this plant’s pollution. The orderly retirement will also ensure that the Centralia community will be protected during the transition away from coal.”
Under the agreement TransAlta will install pollution controls on both of its boilers in 2013, which will reduce the amount of health-threatening nitrogen oxide pollution from the plant.
In addition, the agreement will establish a $60 million transition fund for investment in the Centralia community to help transition away from reliance on the plant. “Not only will tens of millions of dollars be invested in Centralia community development, but a significant portion of the transition fund will additionally be dedicated to innovation and new technologies that will help reduce Washington’s carbon pollution,” the Sierra Club said.
Together with a plan to close Oregon’s one coal plant – Portland General Electric’s Boardman plant – in 2020, the Pacific Northwest will end its coal-burning activity throughout the next 14 years.
What’s remarkable is that the cooperation (and money) of a coal company will eventually end in a positive result for all parties, and end a 10-year battle. Is it an acknowledgment that we can end the addiction to dirty and outdated energy production? Maybe so, at least starting in the Pacific Northwest. As the Sierra Club says, “It will be in clean and sustainable energy that will put people to work. This is another step on our shared path to a clean energy future.”